Greensboro’s Reliably Bad is an eight-piece funk/soul group that’s vibrating at its own frequency

By Grant Golden

March 3, 2021

Photo: Becca Higgins

What’s a band to do when live music stops? That’s the question on the mind of many artists as we approach a full year of quarantine and other restrictions due to Covid-19. But somehow it seems like Greensboro’s young funk/soul octet Reliably Bad hasn’t skipped a beat. With single releases, videos, covers and live streams, 2020 proved to be a wildly productive year. The band recently released their debut full-length record, Space Girl. Produced by revered jazz/neo-soul guitarist Charlie Hunter (D’Angelo, Norah Jones, Frank Ocean), Space Girl rockets Reliably Bad from raucous live-band upstarts to one of the region’s most promising young acts. 

Reliably Bad got their start in 2018 with the sole intent of bringing “danceable” music to what tends to be a gritty Greensboro house show scene. Playing alongside acts like Black Haus, Reliably Bad cut their teeth with tightly packed, high-energy shows that relied heavily on covers from acts like Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire.

L to R: Matt Laird, Chris Peebles, Colin Moser, Zac Covington, Jess Schneider, Charlie Sothcott, Chris Sisco, Jimmy Washington. Photo: Becca Higgins

“Playing house shows was just…fun. We just came from a place of studying the music we liked so intensely,” said bassist Matt Laird. Which makes sense– all of the band members studied music or music education at UNCG.

The group came together and used their technical musical prowess to dissect these funk, neo-soul, and R&B tracks, forming an amalgamation of decades’ worth of influences. And when eight stellar jazz and classical musicians come together over a mutual love of dance music, the results are bound to be dynamic. 

Each song on Space Girl is full of nuanced layers– from choral vocals and string quartets to finely placed glockenspiel hits and silky smooth horn runs. While it’s easy to get lost in the glitz of maximalist production, Reliably Bad’s soundscapes remain grounded thanks to a tight rhythm section and captivating melodies. The band credits a lot of those rhythmic choices to their work with esteemed guitarist Charlie Hunter on production.  

‘Space Girl’ album art by Ray Yang.

“He changed the way we think about music completely,” Laird said. “There are always so many things happening at once it can be hard to focus…but [Charlie] was very grounding. He helped to block out all of the other noise for the rhythm section…making sure the kick and the bass are locked in, making sure the swing feels right.” 

And that sweet spot is what makes Space Girl such a brilliant debut for this young octet. Finding the blend between palpable live band energy and crisp studio pomp can take years to accomplish, but Reliably Bad has nailed it on the first run. Between their strong rhythmic core, earworm melodies, and subtle post-production flare from producer Gabe Fox-Peck, each song boasts a rich musical palette. Every instrument feels informed by the other parts, interwoven like musical macramé.

Chris Peebles, Jimmy Washington, Matt Laird, Charlie Sothcott, Jessica Schneider, Colin Moser, Chris Sisco, Zac Covington. Photo: Becca Higgins

On the album’s title track, vocalist Jess Schneider’s plush vocal runs are nestled amid staccato string lines, billowing horns and a playful rhythm section. There’s a natural ebb and flow between the layers that breathes life and energy into the mix.

“Listening is a huge part of being in Reliably Bad,” said Schneider. “[We’re] really intentionally listening and paying attention to soundscape. There’s a huge difference between [our] live arrangements and studio arrangements…so with eight instruments you have to be very intentional.” 

This attention to detail is something that bleeds into all aspects of Reliably Bad as a group. Sure, they pack a lot of musicality into the 26 minutes of Space Girl, but that intentionality is also on display in the band’s presentation. Despite being locked down in quarantine for the bulk of 2020, the year proved to be one of their most productive to date– and they show no signs of slowing down. Days before the release of Space Girl the group was already releasing new covers and thinking up more to come.

Jimmy Washington, Chris Peebles, Jessica Schneider, Matt Laird, Chris Sisco, Zac Covington, Charlie Sothcott, Colin Moser. Photo: Becca Higgins

“We did really well on TikTok,” Schneider laughed [their “Magic School Bus” cover is sitting at nearly 200,000 plays at the time of writing]. “So we’re probably gonna shift [our focus] into some Teen Nick covers. Maybe Drake & Josh or iCarly theme songs…it’s all just very fun for us.” 

TikTok videos and YouTube covers serve as a way for the band to get back to their fun-loving roots. Rather than shaking the floors with Earth, Wind & Fire tunes at house parties, they’re taking to the internet with those same high-energy takes on beloved tunes. It’s not just a way of keeping their eager fans engaged with content, but it’s also a way to flex their creative muscles in a time where live shows still aren’t a possibility.

Playful covers aside, it’s clear that Reliably Bad is a band that’s vibrating on its own frequency. Taking influences ranging from funk and soul to doo-wop and hip-hop, the band wrangles these diverse inspirations into a cohesive output that’s both heartfelt and danceable. And whether it’s sixty-second viral sensations or robust LPs, it’s all reliably great.

Listen to Space Girl by Reliably Bad and follow the group on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook.

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